Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chicken, my foot.

A few weeks after reports that people in Haiti rioted about the high cost of food and reports that in Egypt the army had been ordered to bake bread, the ramifications of a major international food crisis are just dawning on lots of ordinary people. Here in Barbados, people have just been struck by the news that local flour prices were increased 30 percent and now wait to see what impact that will have on bread prices and the cost of other baked goods. Gasolene and diesel prices were increased here last week and that too may soon start to factor into the prices of many food items. Well, no amount of exhortation will turn people into small farmers in a hurry and most countries now fell that part of the price of progress is for people to leave the land and growing food to those "unfortunates" who cannot leave the rural areas or who choose to stay and grow "herbs".

Funnily, I have a Bajan friend who now lives in England and she has been lauding it about how her garden is blooming marvelous. She's gone into planting potatoes ("spuds"); simple and filling. But she has also gone for the colour and some flowers.

But there's a lot more going on with food prices and how the world is responding. I'm a dabbler in financial markets and I know something (not much) about a few financial assets (stocks, shares, futures, options, etc.); I know a little about foreign exchange dealing. I listen to the commentary about commodity markets, and know that the price of oil and gold especially have a big bearing on what happens in a lot of markets. There has been almost a perfect relationship over the past year with the movement of crude oil prices and the value of the Euro against the US dollar. So, with oil prices at all time highs and hovering near US$120 a barrel it was no surprise that the value of the Euro rose to an all time high of over 1.60 to the dollar this week.

But I fell out of my dealing chair this morning, when I heard discussion about the market in chicken futures. Well I have found that there is a market in broiler futures--operating out of Tokyo. Sure, I knew about markets for various foods--wheat, sugar, coffee, cocoa, soy beans, pork bellies, cattle, lean hogs... But here was news for me. Who's driving these markets? McDonald's for one, with their menu of hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. But all of us with our seemingly growing appetites for processed foods. The world's largest chicken processor, Pilgrim's Pride, gained the most in almost three months in New York trading after Credit Suisse analysts said earnings will accelerate as poultry prices rise through 2009. But that is a market for the nice chicken pieces or whole chicken. So far, chicken's feet ("scratchers" or "steppers" as they are known in Barbados) remain unaffected by globalization. Pig's tails too remain near the bottom of financial market interests. Ironically, we also have cases where food stuffs cannot be sold or even given away. Last year it was a huge crop of tomatoes that caught the headlines; just this week an onion farmer spoke of difficulties in selling hundreds of bags of his produce, which were only sold after his plight was highlighted in the newspapers.

I read on Bloomsberg that "Pork features are pulling away from beef features." Trotting away, no doubt. Or is it hoofing it? My experience with pork features was merely that those were the parts that some people love in their pudding and souse--ears, snout, trotters, etc--the moving parts. The souse yuppies, go for lean meat--all that crunching with the munching is not for them.
So, high prices are here for a while. In Barbados, I see that one way of dealing with the escalating costs is to play foul. I read today that 50 turkeys, ready for market, were plucked from under their owner's nose--for an estimated loss of B$4,000---and I imagine are being made ready for gobbling right now. No need to wait for Christmas, or even American Thanksgiving. Can you believe that last year the same farmer had 200 pigs stolen? He has told food processors to look out for the thieves. I know most criminals are not that bright, but come on! This crime, known officially as praedial larceny, has been a long time scourge in Jamaica and Trinidad, and both countries now have laws trying to prevent the petty theft of crops and livestock.

I guess things will get more interesting as people find that they have to eat but can't afford the things to which they have become accustomed. Most children have no idea where food comes from except from a box or a tin. I suspect that many adults are not much better, thinking it comes from KFC, Burger King, or Mickey D's. The next few years will give a chance to relearn about how to produce food to eat. The situation will be more complicated as the world tries to get "green" by using food stuffs to make fuel. I remember how the English countryside was transformed into a sea of yellow as oil seed rape was sown to make cooking oil, and repleced wheat, barley, oats, etc. Now, we have the oil and nothing to cook in it. Instead of putting corn into your stomach you will be feeding it, in a sense, to your car. I wonder what the emissions will be like. Odourless, I hope.
I just love progress.

1 comment:

Jdid said...

Latest news is that rice getting scarce worldwide. Imagine what thats going to do to Caribbean diets?

You are so right about people not knowing where their food, especially meat comes from. I know folk who have turned vegetarian because they found out that the nice little rooster or chickn they saw at a play farm became the skinless boneless neatly plastic packaged stuff they took home from the supermarket.